How Law Professors Address Sexual Assault Matters to Students

This Thursday, the Republican controlled Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its 5th day of hearings on the controversial Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States the Supreme Court. The controversy surrounding his nomination and his treatment of women when in high school and college should be front and center on Thursday starting at 10 am (ET) (depending on the latest revelation?).

Young activists’ and law students’ interest in, or fear of discussing, this subject is palpable across campuses as evidenced by the Believe Survivors walkout. (Another is scheduled for this coming Thursday.) Yale law school professors cancelled or were forced to cancel classes last Monday because of activist student voices, to the dismay of other students.

Given that a “survey conducted by OVW and the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that an average of one in four undergraduate females experience sexual assault by the time they finish college,” it is likely that there is at least one, if not more, survivors in every class we teach. Therefore, how should we as legal educators respond, in and out of the classroom, to the challenging climate which we and our students now face?

Here are some preliminary thoughts and I hope our readers add more:

  1. Educate each other and our students about how to have this discussion without playing into gender myths and sexual assault implicit biases (See my discussion of five simple rules )
  2. Discuss misplaced and misunderstood concepts of presumption of innocence and due process.(Capital Pressroom radio interview with Professor Christine Sgarlata Chung and myself)
  3. Discuss what the burden of persuasion and the burden of proof means and why the national conversation is playing havoc with these concepts.
  4. Assign material on Anita Hill.
  5. Skip taking attendance Thursday.
  6. Stream the hearing into your class. ( ) After anonymous input from all students, I am streaming the hearing starting at 10 — albeit this is a no-brainer for my Domestic Violence seminar since the scheduled topic is sexual assault!
  7. Wear a button, a T shirt, have something on your person or PPT screen that shows you know that there are likely survivors in your classroom and that you support them – whether or not you support Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh.
  8. Discuss Vicarious Trauma of Lawyers who work with Sexual Assault/Intimate Partner Violence Survivors and the need for self-care.
  9. Visit this site and share it with your students to encourage all to “Start By Believing
  10. Have at your fingertips counselling and other resources particular to your school for those experiencing PTSD.

What are your thoughts?


2 Responses

  1. When I was a student, I had to make use of the harassment policies at my law school to protect myself. I was surprised to find a system designed to protect itself from ever coming to a legitimate finding of harassment while making tissue-thin attempts at a fair and balanced approach.

    These are wonderful suggestions and many students will learn from these steps. I know I wish I had the chance to participate in something like this when I was enrolled. The more Faculty/Administrators/Staff proactively educate students about their options when they suspect harassment on campus, the more likely policies in place can change to protect students rather than a self-interest institutional reputation.

  2. Thanks for this Mary. I appreciate the suggestion to make, especially your attachment of the website “start by believing.” I already shared it.

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